Thursday, August 14, 2014

White Girl Gone Tribal

I want to go tribal, pound the earth with hands wide open, my butt high in the air.   I like to get funky.  I like to feel the earth under my feet and in my hands.  

I want my white-boy son to dance with abandon.  (So far, so good… When he was In Utero, I played hip-hop--Nelly and Salt n' Pepa, that kinda thing, no classical music for him.) 

Music and writing:  both require the participant to say, ‘To hell with inhibitions.  I came here to shake my ass!  I came to represent and show you what I got.’  Both require the participant to be loose and wild.  Both require us to dig deep.  Don’t reign things in until the revision stage or until the band has stopped playing. 

Music always plays a part in my writing. Mambo, Cha-Cha, classical, Beatles, Bowie, Stevie, there’s  no telling.  “Oh Mother, I can feel the soil falling over my head…” (The Smiths) in Above Us Only Sky (Simon and Schuster, 2015).  I love to dance.  I love to be swept up in rhythms, words and drums.

You can tell a lot about a person by how they dance.  Ditto with how they write.  My fourth novel, currently in progress, takes place partly in Cuba so I am studying Caribbean culture and rhythms.  My dear friend at Book Riot, Rebecca Schinsky, recommended THE LAND OF LOVE AND DROWNING by Tiphanie Yanique as a new and relevant novel I’d enjoy.  It takes place in the Virgin Islands as they are passed from Dutch to American hands.

Well, I am the kind of girl, dancer, and writer, who likes to pay homage to my compadres.  With that in mind, if you enjoy mythic tales of native islanders, those mixed-blood inhabitants of islands who lost their mixed roots, sand and hearts to American tourism, this is a must-read for you.   The story, incredibly and credibly dark and mythic, nearly makes you question if incest is such a bad thing!  As Madison Smart Belle writes in The Boston Globe, “Yanique has borrowed a few pieces of furniture from the Southern Gothic attic. In place of Faulkner’s preoccupation with miscegenation (sheer nonsense in Yanique’s fictional world), there is incest... But is it always a bad thing? The love of half-siblings … begets Youme, whose clubfoot ... and whose proud beauty becomes a totem for the islanders’ struggle to take back their own. Small islands can be incestuous places, and incest may stand for a certain way the mind has to fertilize — and fortify — itself. This novel builds its best effects rather slowly, but in the end Yanique succeeds in evoking the panorama of the Virgin Islands in a voice all her own.”

So, if you’re looking for a book of dark myths and legends, the kind of book where you can feel the water in your veins and the sand under your fingernails, I highly recommend The Land of Love
and Drowning.  It is a unique and beautifully written debut novel.  One of the main characters, Eeona, carries a silver jewel.  I will never forget this diamond.  Yanique writes with the same wild abandon her characters display.  I have great admiration for her talent.
So, here's to getting funky, to writing and dancing equally with abandon.  I'm so white, I imagine my ancestors were bad-ass Celtic priestesses who knew how to conjure all manner of magic with their beats.

Michele Young-Stone is the author of The Handbook for Lightning StrikeSurvivors (Crown, 2010) and the forthcoming Above Us Only Sky (Simon and Schuster, 2015).  She is currently working on a fourth novel.

Michele loves to write and dance.  Go figure.  


  1. Great post! Makes me want to dance and read, though maybe not at the same time :) I heard of that book and it sounded good, but now I definitely want to check it out!

  2. It's so great that you express your feelings and emotions in music, dancing and writing. I have a friend whose frustration grew so high that she just put her feelings to writing, especially essay write online and I've been really enjoying her talent.

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